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The Ruling on Prayer Beads

From the Major Scholars

Question:
What is the ruling on using the masbahah (prayer beads)?

Praise be to Allâh

Some scholars say that it is permissible to use the masbahah, but they say that it is
preferable to do tasbeeh on one's fingers; others say that it is bid'ah (reprehensible
innovation).

Shaykh al-Islâm Ibn Taymiyah said in al-Fataawa (22/187): "Some of them might show off
by putting their prayer-mats over their shoulders and carrying their masbahahs in their
hands, making them symbols of religion and prayer. It is known from the mutawaatir
reports that neither the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allâh be upon him) nor his
Companions used these as symbols. They used to recite tasbeeh and count on their fingers,
as the hadeeth says: "Count on your fingers, for they will asked, and will be made to
speak." Some of them may count their tasbeeh with pebbles or date stones. Some people say
that doing tasbeeh with the masbahah is makrooh, and some allow it, but no one says that
tasbeeh with the masbahah is better than tasbeeh with the fingers." Then he (may Allâh
have mercy on him) goes on to discuss the issue of showing off with the masbahah, saying
that it is showing off with regard to something that is not prescribed by Islâm, which is
worse than showing off with regard to something that is prescribed.

Shaykh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-'Uthaymeen (al-Liqa' al-Maftooh, 3/30) was asked
whether using the masbahah for tasbeeh is bid'ah, and his reply was: "It is better not to do
tasbeeh with the masbahah, but it is not bid'ah, because there is a basis for it, which is the
fact that some of the Sahaabah did tasbeeh with pebbles. But the Messenger (peace and
blessings of Allâh be upon him) taught that tasbeeh with the fingers is better, as he said,
'Count with the fingertips, for they will be made to speak.' Doing tasbeeh with the
masbahah is not haraam or bid'ah, but it is better not to do it, because the one who does
tasbeeh with the masbahah has shunned something better. Using the masbahah may also
be contaminated with some element of showing off, because we see some people carrying
masbahahs that contain a thousand beads, as if they are telling people, 'Look at me, I do a
thousand tasbeehs!' Secondly, those who use the masbahah for tasbeeh are usually absent-
minded and not focused, so you see them doing tasbeeh with the beads, but their gaze is
wandering all over the place, which indicates that they are not really concentrating. It is
better to do tasbeeh with one's fingers, preferably using the right hand rather than the left,
because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allâh be upon him) used to count his tasbeeh
on his right hand. If a person counts his tasbeeh using both hands, there is nothing wrong
with that, but it is better to use the right hand only."

Shaykh Muhammad Naasir al-Deen al-Albaani said in Al-Silsilat al-Da'eefah (1/110), where
he quotes the (weak) hadeeth "What a good reminder is the subhah [masbahah],"
"In my view, the meaning of this hadeeth is invalid for a number of reasons:

Firstly, the subhah [masbahah] is bid'ah and was not known at the time of the Prophet
(peace and blessings of Allâh be upon him). It happened after that, so how could he (peace
and blessings of Allâh be upon him) have encouraged his Sahaabah to do something that
was unknown to them? The evidence for what I have said is the report narrated by Ibn
Waddaah in Al-Bid' wa'l-Nahy 'anhaa from al-Salt ibn Bahraam, who said: 'Ibn Mas'ood
passed by a woman who had a [masbahah] with which she was making tasbeeh, and he
broke it and threw it aside, then he passed by a man who was making tasbeeh with pebbles,
and he kicked him then said, "You think you are better than the Sahaabah, but you are
following unjustified bid'ah! You think you have more knowledge than the Companions of
Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allâh be upon him)!"' Its isnaad is saheeh to al-Salt,
who is one of the trustworthy (thiqah) followers of the Taabi'een.

Secondly, it goes against the guidance of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allâh be upon
him). 'Abd-Allâh ibn 'Amr said, 'I saw the Messenger of Allâh (peace and blessings of Allâh
be upon him) counting the tasbeeh on his right hand.' "

He also said (1/117): "If there is only one bad thing about the masbahah, which it is that it
takes the place of the Sunnah of counting on the fingers, even though all are agreed that
counting on the fingers is preferable, then that is bad enough. How rarely I see people
counting their tasbeeh on their fingers!

Moreover, people have invented so many sophisticated ways of following this bid'ah, so you
see the followers of one of the [Sufi] tareeqahs wearing the masbahah around their necks!
Or some of them counting with the beads whilst talking or listening to you! Or another one -
the like of whom I have not seen for some time - riding his bicycle through a street crowded
with people, with the masbahah in one of his hands! They are showing the people that they
are not distracted from the remembrance of Allâh for even an instant, but in many cases
this bid'ah is a cause of their neglecting what is obligatory (waajib). It has happened many
times - to others as well as myself - that when I greet one of these people with salaam, they
answer only by waving and not by saying the words of the greeting. The bad results of this
bid'ah are innumerable, and no one can say it better than the poet:

'All goodness is in following that which went before (the salaf)

All badness is in the innovations of those who came later.' "

And Allâh knows best.